If the oceans were ink An unlikely friendship and a journey to the heart of the Quran

Carla Power

Book - 2015

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New York, New York : Henry Holt and Company 2015.
Main Author
Carla Power (author)
First edition
Physical Description
x, 336 pages ; 21 cm
Includes bibliographical references (pages [307]-322) and index.
  • Introduction: A Map for the Journey
  • Part 1. The Origins
  • 1. The Quran in Twenty-Five Words
  • 2. An American in the East
  • 3. A Muslim in the West
  • 4. Road Trip to the Indian Madrasa
  • 5. A Migrant's Prayer Mat
  • Part 2. The Home
  • 6. Pioneer Life in Oxford
  • 7. Nine Thousand Hidden Women
  • 8. "The Little Rosy One"
  • 9. Veiling and Unveiling
  • 10. Reading "The Women"
  • Part 3. The World
  • 11. A Pilgrim's Progress
  • 12. Jesus, Mary, and the Quran
  • 13. Beyond Politics
  • 14. The Pharaoh and His Wife
  • 15. War Stories
  • 16. The Last Lesson
  • Conclusion: Everlasting Return
  • Author's Note
  • Glossary
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Acknowledgments
  • Index
Review by Booklist Review

Power, a secular American journalist who had seen firsthand the clumsy attempts by the media to cover Muslims in the West, partnered with Mohammad Akram Nadwi, a madrasa-trained sheikh, to delve into the true teachings of the Qur'an. They already knew that the ancient text went far beyond the out-of-context passages used to justify violence and oppression of women. For one year, Power met with Akram for personal lessons, shadowed his lectures at Oxford, and followed him on a trip home to his ancestral village in India for deeper lessons on the teachings of the Qur'an and his scholarly work challenging the marginality of women in Islam, uncovering histories of thousands of learned Islamic women, from the time of the prophet Muhammad to today. Akram taught her the differences between cultural and religious traditions and the resistance to change even when the Qur'an is cited as the authority. Their yearlong debates on issues ranging from the veiling of women to calls for fatwas challenged their own understandings of religion, culture, politics, and friendship and offer powerful new insights into Islam.--Bush, Vanessa Copyright 2015 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

In this engaging memoir, Power, who was a foreign correspondent for Newsweek, recounts the year she devoted to studying the Qur'an with Sheikh Akram, a friend and former colleague from Oxford. Recently, the Sheikh's scholarship, which "challenges bigots of all types," has found a much wider audience. His work of 10 years, compiled in a 40-volume treatise, details the historical contributions of thousands of women scholars to Islamic literature, back to the time of the Prophet. Power attended both public lessons and one-on-one discussions with the Sheikh. She spent time with his family in Britain and traveled to the village in India where he grew up, in an effort to understand how his family implemented the Qur'an's teachings into their daily lives. Power and the Sheikh touch on historical and contemporary topics, especially in respect to women's rights. Together they explore homosexuality, Muhammad's wife who operated a caravan business in Mecca, the significance of veiling and unveiling, the struggle against unjust rulers and jihad, and contemporary wars. Power's narrative offers an accessible and enlightening route into a topic fraught with misunderstanding. (Apr.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review

What happens when a secular, feminist journalist spends an entire year studying with and interviewing an Islamic scholar? This memoir-style narrative addresses this question, as journalist Power documented her year with Sheikh Akram Nadwi, who resides in Oxford, England. Yet this story is not just about the interactions between two people from very different backgrounds and belief systems. It also, through the experience and the insights from the Sheikh, provides an introduction to Islamic thought and practice. With clarity and wisdom, the Sheikh responds to difficult questions, such as ones concerning Islamic Jihad movements in Palestine as well as the Prophet Muhammad's marriage to a nine year old. One is struck by this conservative Sheikh's ability to address such questions and Islam in general in a thoughtful, perceptive manner. Interestingly, while Powers did not, after the year spent with the Sheikh, convert to Islam, she did come to deeply respect him and his religious perspective. VERDICT Readers interested in Islam or cultural studies will find this an informative and engrossing work. [See Prepub Alert, 10/20/14.]-John Jaeger, Dallas Baptist Univ. Lib. (c) Copyright 2015. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

An award-winning journalist's account of the year she spent probing the meaning of the Quran with a conservative Muslim religious scholar.St. Louis native Power spent many years living in cities like Tehran, Kabul, Delhi and Cairo when she was a child and teenager. Eventually, she went on to study Middle Eastern societies in college and graduate school and file news reports about Islamic culture and politics for magazines like Time and Newsweek. But the more she wrote about the Middle East, the more she realized how little she really knew about "the piety [Muslims] claimed inspired them." So she went to a friend and Oxford professor of religion, Mohammad Akram Nadwi, and asked him to enlighten her on the Quran. The lively dialogue that ensued between them covered such hot-button Western obsessions as women's rights, polygamy and Sharia law. At the same time, it also delved into more personal topics, such as which Quranic themes her friend found the most important in his own life. The journalist and her friend debated each other in Oxford cafes, lecture halls and Indian madrassas and bonded over shared human experiences, like the deaths of their respective mothers. While Nadwi made God the center of his world, he also supported basic human rights and the importance of "individual conscience over state-mandated laws." His religious expansiveness had its limits, however, especially where women's domestic roles and homosexuality were concerned. Power eventually came to see that her friend's faith derived from understanding the letter of the Quran as bound to historical context and its spirit to evolving human truths. By the end of their year together, she realized that "opposition between [her] own post-Enlightenment worldview and [Nadwi's] Muslim one" was a false construction that not only prevented her from seeing her friend's world clearly, but also her own. Intelligent and exceptionally informative. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.